Saint-Barthélemy (August 24, 1572)

Saint-Barthélemy (August 24, 1572)

To close

Title: La Saint-Barthélemy (24 August 1572) and the assassination of Admiral de Coligny.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown: 24 August 1572

Dimensions: Height 11.5 cm - Width 17 cm

Technique and other indications: etching

Storage place: Condé museum (Chantilly) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais (Domaine de Chantilly) / Thierry Le Mage

Picture reference: 10-512886 / EST H 23

La Saint-Barthélemy (24 August 1572) and the assassination of Admiral de Coligny.

© RMN - Grand Palais (Domaine de Chantilly) / Thierry Le Mage

Publication date: April 2015

Professor of modern history, Université Lyon 2 - Member of the Religions, Societies and Acculturation team

Historical context

Image of violence, violence of image

There is, at the time of the Wars of Religion, a new interest in the news image, whereas it was practically non-existent before in France. Intaglio print (burin, then etching) was first used to produce portraits.

There was a European print market during the times of the Wars of Religion. They are particularly appreciated in the Germanic world, the main workshop of the time being that of Frans Hogenberg, in Cologne.

This intaglio engraving evokes the massacre of Parisian Protestants in August 1572. It recalls Dutch or Germanic productions, and necessarily comes from the Protestant world.

Civil wars began in 1562, but since 1570 the kingdom of France has been at peace. Catherine de Medici, the mother of young King Charles IX, thinks she has finally succeeded in putting an end to the violence between Catholics and Protestants. She even accomplishes the tour de force which amounts to having her daughter, Marguerite, married by a reformed prince of the blood, Henri de Navarre. The wedding, which took place on August 18, 1572 in Paris, gave rise to spectacular celebrations expressing the reconciliation between the parties. Reformed gentlemen also came in large numbers to the capital, overwhelmingly Catholic.

However, the young Duke of Guise, Henri de Lorraine, still intends to avenge the death of his assassinated father in 1563, which he attributes to Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the military leader of the Huguenot party. For his part, Philip II of Spain has only one fear, and that is that the French of both faiths, now united, will launch a campaign against him.

On August 22, 1572, in the middle of the morning, the admiral left the Louvre where he participated in the Council. Charles IX promises to do justice, but the Protestants cry for vengeance. The assassinations begin before dawn on August 24. A troop goes to the admiral, who is stabbed ...

Image Analysis

The height of the Wars of Religion

The image is split in two by the wall of Admiral de Coligny's house. On the left, the wounded man, still in his bed, is pierced by the swords of the murderers. To the right is represented the general massacre of the Parisian Huguenots. Some are defaced, others thrown into a well, all are beaten with the sword. No distinction is made between men and women, between children and old people.

The targeted executions of Huguenot captains followed a surge of violence. The Parisian militia, made up of bourgeois, gave free rein to its hatred of Protestants. At first, the king declares that he is in no way responsible for the events, but on August 26 he ends up presenting himself as the one who decides to put to death rebels who were plotting a plot against him.

The Parisian massacres claim about three thousand victims. A dozen cities (Orleans, Lyon, Rouen, Bordeaux, Toulouse, etc.) follow the example of the capital. In total, around ten thousand people are murdered. Tens of thousands of Protestants convert, others go into exile.


A tragic theater

From the 1560s the feeling developed in France that the kingdom had sunk into a time of chaos. Obedience to the king is forgotten; families are torn apart; The Church is despised. This tragic feeling is expressed by the images of massacres which are numerous in the 1560s. The “Triumvirate massacres”, in vogue at that time, represent the violence committed by the Roman triumvirs who put an end to the Republic, the most famous version of these events being the one produced by Antoine Caron, now kept in the Louvre.

In 1569 and 1570, a series of engravings was produced in Geneva from drawings made by two artists from Lyon who had taken refuge in the city, Jean Perrissin and Jacques Tortorel, which shows the main events that have taken place in France since 1559. Massacres and battles occupy a preponderant place there.

During the League period, between 1585 and the mid-1590s, large numbers of prints were published to denounce the misdeeds of Protestant heretics and the vices of Henry III, and then to mobilize Catholics against Henry IV. The royalists, for their part, multiply the portraits of the new king to justify his accession.

The impact of these images and their mobilizing force should not be underestimated.

  • Catholicism
  • Protestantism
  • conspiracy
  • assassinations
  • execution
  • Paris
  • religious war
  • Saint-Barthélemy


BENEDICT Philip, The gaze captures history: the wars, massacres and troubles of Tortorel and Perrissin, Geneva, Droz, coll. “Current title” (no 47), 2012.CROUZET Denis, The Night of Saint-Barthélemy: a lost dream of the Renaissance, Paris, Fayard, coll. "Chronicles", 1994.GRIVEL Marianne, The Print Trade in Paris in the 17th century, Geneva, Droz, coll. "Histoire et civilization du livre" (no 16), 1986.JOUANNA Arlette, Saint-Barthélemy: the mysteries of a state crime (August 24, 1572), Paris, Gallimard, coll. "The Days which made France", 2007.LE ROUX Nicolas, The Wars of Religion (1559-1629), Paris, Belin, coll. “History of France”, 2009.

To cite this article

Nicolas LE ROUX, "La Saint-Barthélemy (August 24, 1572)"

Video: Histoires dHistoire - La Saint Barthélemy